“I made Expression Tees” – An interview with Steven Austin

by on Sep 28, 2016

They leverage the power of the biggest eCommerce store out there, Amazon. Selling mostly typography t-shirts with a strong message. Now, they’re live on TeeHunter and hands down the brand that uploaded the most t-shirts in their first 30 days of existence.

I believe there are two ingredients to succeed, one is execution and the other is perseverance. They seem to have both. Meet ExpressionTees, in this new “I made” episode. – TeeHunter

Who is Steven Austin?
Just a man, with a man’s courage. I grew up on Long Island, NY and have lived here my entire 36 years.


How did everything start for you, Steve?
I first got started in the T-shirt biz around 2012. I was working for a haberdashery, and T-shirts were sort of a side business for the guy. I helped him grow it out, and once I noticed it started to become a bigger part of his store, I decided maybe it was time to branch out on my own. I do most of the designs myself, even though many of our shirts are typography, with funny sayings or popular phrases, so there is not much “design” that goes in to them. We work with an artist that helps us out with some of the more complex stuff you might see on our site, like our Thin Blue Line Skull shirt, or our funny Pug Life Tees.

In the beginning, everything was new for us. Just adding an item to our website was an all-day chore. And that glorious day we got our first sale? Printing the shipping label was more complex than actually printing the shirt! We were off to a rocky start trying to figure the ins and outs of running a business from our home garage. We eventually made it past the learning curve, and now have an incredibly streamlined system, still printing and shipping from our garage in Babylon, NY.

The first shirt we ever sold was our “Como Estas Bitches” tee, and not even on our own site, it was on Amazon, exactly 1 month after we were an official company. We now proudly have this hanging up in our warehouse alongside some of our other most popular hits we’ve acquired along the way. We were so excited, and immediately heaped tons of thank you’s and praise on our new customer… He never responded to our messages, and must have thought he just bought a t-shirt from a bunch of loons haha. We were selling shirts for $15 with free shipping at the time.

What’s the process, from idea to.. it’s done.
For new shirt ideas, this is really something we look to the internet for. We scour the internet for popular phrases (Damn Gina), see what’s trending in the news (Black Lives Matter), catch-lines from popular movies (I Don’t Have Friends, I’ve Got Family) and listen to the hottest songs (All The Way Up). We try to stay on the cutting edge of pop-culture by constantly adding new shirts, at least a few times a week. We add to as many different marketplaces as possible (Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, Wish), so we can quickly gauge interest and see if we have a winner or a flop. By always adding new stuff, we try to have something for everyone no matter what they’re into.

What platform do you use to sell t-shirts currently?
Platform – Amazon for marketplaces, Shopify for our own site.

Tell us a bit more about Amazon
Working with Amazon has been amazing. Remember that old haberdashery I told you about that I used to work for? That’s where I learned the ins and outs of Amazon. Since then, I have become a bit of an expert at listing items and finding great ideas on their platform. We cater mostly to the Amazon marketplace now. We fulfill all our own orders, which can be a bit of a challenge sometimes when dealing with that kind of volume (especially since we are still working out of our garage!), but we have developed a tight operation and we make it work.


Listing on Amazon can be an uphill battle. You have to jump through a lot of hoops just to get approved to sell on Amazon, including learning their somewhat complex excel file upload system for adding items. But with some Excel magic, I have developed a quick and easy system for getting items listed. We have now branched out to selling on Amazon.ca (Canada) also, and we’re hoping to start making some Canadian customers just as happy as our American customers have been.

Amazon does take a cut of each sale – 15% – but for the amount of eyeballs it gets, it makes sense for us to be there. They also demand a lot from you as far as dealing with *their* customer, so bending over backwards is a must when dealing with customers from Amazon. We have been able to maintain perfect feedback though, and we pride ourselves on our exceptional customer service no matter which platform we are selling on.

Check out our Amazon shop at www.expressiontees.co

Similarly, selling on Etsy has been met with great success too. They make it super easy to list, and their fees are much cheaper than Amazon (I think it is 3.5% for the sale, plus 20 cents to list an item). Customers need a lot of hand holding there, but we have found the Etsy community to be  a great group. They are much easier to please, and most are excited to be working with and buying from a small T-shirt company rather than someone off Amazon, whom they likely see as being a big mega-corp. Etsy gives us that “authenticity” of being a small company. There is a ton of flexibility with Etsy too, as they allow you to list however you like, and encourage real-life images over the model/white background that Amazon mandates. We have taken this opportunity to get our shirts into the hands of a few models, and have not only got amazing shots of them in our shirts, but made some new friends along the way.

Check out our Etsy shop at www.expressiontees.biz

Do you have a favorite design style or t-shirt?
Favorite shirt we’ve sold – I have to go with our first, Como Estas Bitches. It holds a special place in our hearts for us. Bitches.

Favorite Design Style – Due to my limited photoshop skills, I am a huge fan of Typography shirts, particularly distressed/vintage looking.

Equipment you currently work on?
Equipment – We currently use a Hix 650P heat press for all our designs. It is super strong and durable, and has an auto-timer that makes it pop up once it’s completed it’s cycle, so you never have to worry about it. Such a workhorse of a machine, we love it.

We knew that Steven used TeeHunter like a pro, so we asked for a testimonial very early on in order to get some feedback. This is what we have from him and it’s pretty awesome to know we’re making a dent in the t-shirt industry with every brand we work with. Truly makes you feel good. – TeeHunter

We were so excited to stumble upon Tee Hunter and their premium brand package. Once we signed up, we got personal, friendly service, a full explanation of their benefits and a tutorial on how to maximize our efforts with them. We immediately got to work adding just a few shirts, and within 2 days we started seeing traffic flow to our site from Tee Hunter. Amazing. Great encouragement for things to come in the future.

Any other t-shirt brand you’re looking up to?
We love what Buy Me Brunch is doing, and often look to them for inspiration. Their site is clean, images are great, and their marketing is top-notch. And they’re doing it all with only a few different types of garments on 2 select colors. Bravo.

What’s the future looking like?
In 2017, Expression Tees will be moving out of our garage into a proper 2000sf warehouse. This will give us an opportunity to expand the garments we offer into Tank Tops, Toddler Tees, Thermals and more. We couldn’t be more excited as we watch everything keep growing. We’ll miss working from home in our pajamas, but the progress we have seen so far is amazing, and we’re happy to keep bringing our shirts and awesome customer service to more and more people.

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Hi, I'm Sergiu. I run TeeHunter. I make sure our team of t-shirt addicts have everything they need to bring you the best t-shirts out there.

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